Apr 06

Mets Wrap: Niese, Bullpen Sharp In Win Over Miami

Opening Day was impressive, but today might have been the Mets’ most complete victory in this young season. Jon Niese gave the Mets their fifth straight strong start, the offense came from behind twice and the often-criticized bullpen shut the door on the Miami Marlins in a 7-3 victory in a sparsely crowded Citi Field.

NIESE: Another quality start. (AP)

      NIESE: Another quality start. (AP)

That answers the question: If the Mets win in an empty ballpark does it still count?

It does, and the Mets, after losing two straight, are now back over .500, and will try to win their second straight series tomorrow.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up two runs in six innings for his second quality start. He wasn’t as sharp as in the opener as he gave up eight hits and two walks. He threw 100 pitches again, but did not give the Mets the length he wanted. … The bullpen gave up one run in three innings (credited to Scott Atchison). … Bobby Parnell earned the Mets’ first save of the season.

AT THE PLATE:  John Buck drove in four runs on a double and two sacrifice flies. … David Wright and Ike Davis broke out of slumps, getting three and two hits, respectively. … Daniel Murphy tripled in what proved to be the game-winning run in the seventh. … Collin Cowgill, who did not start, hit his second homer of the season. That should return him to the lineup tomorrow.

IN THE FIELD: Ruben Tejada committed his fourth error in five games (he should have five). … Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis started in right and center, respectively. … Tejada made a sparkling play on a deflected ball to end the game.

ON DECK: The Mets conclude this series with the Marlins Sunday, with RHP Jose Fernandez going against LHP Aaron Laffey, at 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN.

Apr 06

Mets Looking For Breakout Game From Offense

Nobody expected the Mets to be an offensive juggernaut, and scoring 19 runs in the first two games should have done nothing to change that impression. Certainly the last two games proved it.

They scored five runs last night, but by that time the game had already been decided.

Manager Terry Collins is hoping for a breakout game today against the Marlins.

“We’ve got a couple guys, hopefully they’re gonna start breaking out of it here pretty soon,’’ Collins said.

The Mets’ hottest hitter has been John Buck (7-for-17). David Wright and Daniel Murphy are each 3-for-14 and Ike Davis is a frigid 1-for-16.

The Mets have homered in each of the first four games, with Buck leading with two. The long-time problem of hitting with runners in scoring position has raised its ugly head as they are 2-16 in the last two games after going 10-19 in the first two. They left 12 runners on last night after leaving 16 in the first three games.

Apr 05

Mets Waste Jeremy Hefner’s Effort

The Mets (2-2) received their fourth straight solid outing from the rotation, but Jeremy Hefner’s effort was wasted as the offense disappeared and the bullpen was hit hard for the second time in four games in tonight’s 7-5 loss to Miami. The Mets have lost two straight after opening the season with two victories over San Diego. Miami won for the first time.

MURPHY: Homered.

MURPHY: Homered.

ON THE MOUND:  Hefner surrendered a homer to Greg Dobbs, the only run he allowed in six innings. The Mets will take that every time. What they can’t accept was what the bullpen combination of Greg Burke and Scott Rice did, giving up four runs on three hits and a walk in the five-run seventh inning to break the game open. … Overall, the Mets’ pen gave up six runs.

AT THE PLATE:  Jordany Valdespin started in center and at the leadoff position and singled. He was also picked off first base. … Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer in the seventh. … Ike Davis has started the season on a 1-for-16 slide. … The Mets stranded 12 runners.

IN THE FIELD:  Sparkling plays by David Wright and Ruben Tejada. Few make the barehanded scoop-and-throw as well as Wright. … Tejada made a costly throwing error that opened the door to the Marlins’ five-run seventh. It was his third in four games.

METS MUSINGS: Shaun Marcum was scheduled to return to Port St. Lucie and will be shut down for a couple of days. Don’t expect to see him any time soon. … Look for Anthony Recker to start in place of John Buck tomorrow afternoon.

ON DECK: Saturday, RHP Ricky Nolasco vs. LHP Jon Niese, 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

Apr 05

Mets’ Jeremy Hefner Starts Against Marlins In Statement Game

John Buck started prepping Jeremy Hefner on tonight’s start with Miami hours ago. He started by meeting with Hefner and pitching coach Dan Warthen about how to pitch the Marlins’ hitters, of which Hefner saw this spring.

“How much that will help, I don’t know,’’ Hefner said. “I do know some things about them … and, they know some things about me.’’

HEFNER: Has an opportunity.

HEFNER: Has an opportunity.

After meeting with Warthen, Buck and Hefner will sit down and go over the signs and tonight’s game plan.

“I don’t want to put something down and have him be totally surprised by it,’’ Buck said. “We want to be thinking along the same lines.’’

What Buck is most interested in seeing from Hefner is how he reacts under pressure.

“That’s when you really get to know a pitcher,’’ Buck said. “It takes time.’’

Hefner will attempt to give the Mets a fourth straight strong start, following the efforts of Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee against San Diego.

The Mets know Hefner from last season when he went 4-7 with a 5.09 ERA with them after injuries to Johan Santana and Gee. Hefner is getting another chance to stick in the rotation as a replacement for Santana, who is out for the season following shoulder surgery.

Is this a chance to show manager Terry Collins he deserves to stay in the rotation?

“No,’’ Hefner bluntly said. “All it means if I pitch well is that I may get another chance to pitch again in five days. If I pitch well then, I might get another chance to pitch in five days. There are no guarantees. Even if I pitch a no-hitter that doesn’t guarantee me a spot in the rotation for the rest of the year.’’

The following is tonight’s lineup for the Mets against Marlins’ starter Alex Sanabia:

Jordany Valdespin, CF: Collin Cowgill, who has struggled since his Opening Day grand slam get the night off.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: With Justin Turner getting three hits yesterday, this could be considered a surprise.

David Wright, 3B: Looking for his first homer.

Ike Davis, 1B: One game he strikes out four times; the next he homers. The production must go up.

Marlon Byrd, CF: A strong start to the season. How long will it go for the 35-year-old?

Lucas Duda, LF: His power potential could still be rattling around in the upper deck.

John Buck, C: Has a calming influence on the pitchers. Homered yesterday.

Jeremy Hefner, RHP: Has a chance to make a statement for staying in the rotation.

Apr 05

Why It Went Wrong For Lastings Milledge

I will remember it as if I saw it yesterday for the first time.

A sheet of notebook paper, with the words, “Know your place, rook … signed, your teammates,’’ was taped over Lastings Milledge’s locker in the Mets’ clubhouse in old RFK Stadium. This, in the late summer in 2006.

MILLEDGE: Once he burned bright.

MILLEDGE: Once he burned bright.

The Mets were en route to the playoffs and a veteran laden team was rubbed the wrong way by Milledge’s brashness and arrogance. Then-manager Willie Randolph – who reprimanded Milledge several times that summer – ripped down the sign, but knew he hadn’t ripped away the problem.

The Mets labeled it a misunderstanding, and Randolph called Milledge “a good kid,’’ but this clearly was not a misunderstanding with a teammate. It was the accumulation of several incidents that rankled several teammates.

Milledge burst upon the Mets, hitting over .300, was dazzling on the bases and showed a strong arm. He was going to be the next “fill in the blank.’’ Willie Mays? Roberto Clemente?

However, things quickly cooled after his first career homer, when on his way to the outfield he high-fived fans down the right field line in Shea Stadium. Randolph sensed how the Giants seethed in their dugout, especially since he saw some of his own players do the same.

Randolph reprimanded Milledge on the unwritten laws in baseball, but it didn’t take. There were ground balls he didn’t run out and times he didn’t hustle in the outfield. He was flash with the jewelry swinging wildly on the field, but in the clubhouse he often sat buried in his locker wearing headphones or playing a video game.

He came off as sullen and angry and clearly couldn’t be bothered by getting to know his teammates. Or, a baseball legend for that matter. During spring training then-GM Omar Minaya brought Milledge to the Nationals dugout to meet Frank Robinson, but Milledge was came off as being in-different.

Finally, he arrived in the clubhouse in Philadelphia an hour before a day game. Although it was early, the veterans made it in on time. David Wright had enough when Milledge strolled in with sunglasses and an iPod as if he owned the place and told him this wasn’t acceptable.

Wright wouldn’t belabor the issue Opening Day, only managing to say “seniority is big in this game,’’ which is the politically-correct translation for Milledge hadn’t earned his stripes.

Milledge popped into my consciousness today when I learned it was his 28th birthday, an age when he should be in the prime of his career. Instead, Milledge is one of hundreds of baseball prospects given the label of “can’t miss, but eventually did.’’

Seven years ago – the career lifetime of a select few – the Mets had three prized outfield prospects in Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Francisco Martinez. One by one they arrived, fizzled to the point of exasperation and were traded. Not one of them hustled like journeyman outfielder Collin Cowgill.

After turning down several proposals for Manny Ramirez, the Mets eventually traded Milledge to Washington as part of a trade that brought Ryan Church – he of the concussion fiasco – and catcher Brian Schneider. Milledge had his coffee to go with Washington, then Pittsburgh and finally the White Sox before heading to Japan. Milledge had his head-scratching moments in each place, but basically stopped hitting.

At 28, Milledge is still young. It’s about discipline in Japan and if Milledge comes back with a changed attitude perhaps he’ll get another chance. It’s a long way to Japan, and perhaps an even longer route back to the major leagues.

ON DECK: The 73 Series continues with “Ya Gotta Believe” slogan